The Baltimore Ravens' lost player count has been upped to three. And two of them both came in the Ravens' narrow victory against the Dallas Cowboys.
First, it was outside linebacker Terell Suggs in the off-season, who hopes to be back by November. Then, it was cornerback Ladarius Webb with an ACL tear, and then it was Ray Lewis with a season-ending torn triceps injury. Add in a struggling Ravens defense that is now devoid of its biggest playmakers, and the outlook going forward looks like it may be changing soon.
For so long, the identity of this team has been its hard hitting, stout defense. But teams have been able to run the ball on them, and the secondary has been inconsistent at times. Now, it will all fall on one guy: Joe Flacco.
A quarterback who has taken a lot of heat for not playing well enough on the big stages, narrowly losing both AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2012, and not playing the way many had expected. But, after getting better weapons in the passing game in Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and reliable tight ends in Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, Flacco has become the kind of quarterback the Ravens need. And he will need to put the team on his shoulders to get them to the Super Bowl.
This defense is not going to be able to replace the production of Lewis, Suggs, and Webb. The Ravens' offense has actually been the story of the 2012 season, and has been able to overcome their struggling defensive play thanks to their franchise running back Ray Rice and rising quarterback Joe Flacco, who is trying to establish himself among the top tier quarterback in the NFL.
And if he wants to establish himself, he must continue to make the Ravens' offense a well oiled machine, and become the leader of this team on the offensive side of the ball. With Lewis down, the Ravens need someone to step up and lead them.
The franchise needs Flacco to be that guy.